2017-04-08 / News

New Superintendent Lohff Sees Opportunity for Hands-on Education

By Wesley Maurer, Jr.

Bob and Katie Lohff with their children, Molly and Steven. Bob and Katie Lohff with their children, Molly and Steven. Robert Lohff returns to Mackinac Island with a commitment to give each student the opportunity to excel in school.

“I want to try to reach every kid,” he says, and the district’s small size, 68 students in K-12, means he and the staff at Mackinac Island Public School can devote attention to each of them.

Mr. Lohff, 31, will become the district’s superintendent July 1, after David Waaso retires at the end of June. As is the custom in some other small schools, he will also take on the role of principal and athletic director.

He was hired by the school board Thursday, March 16, from among 49 applicants and three finalists, and School Board President Jason St. Onge says he likes Bob Lohff because he is young and has the potential to be the superintendent here for 20 to 25 years, and he has school-age children, so he will be invested in the district.

Mr. Lohff also brings some experience as a former teacher on the Island and has some local family ties. From 2009 to April 2012, he worked part time at the Island school as the athletic director and K-12 instructor in physical education and health. For a time, he also ran the school library.

Mr. Lohff is a native to the Eastern Upper Peninsula and was graduated from Rudyard High School in 2004. His parents, Bill and Nancy Lohff, live in Cedarville.

His wife, Katie, is the granddaughter of Armand “Smi” and the late Mickey Horn of Mackinac Island and the daughter of Jim and Colleen Horn of Hessel.

Their son, Steven, 7, attends first grade at Gros Cap School in Moran Township and will enter second grade on the Island in the fall. Their threeyear old daughter, Molly, will begin her education at Mackinac Island Public School in a year or two, and the Lohffs look forward to the day she will receive her high school diploma on Mackinac.

Katie Lohff works in the accounting department at Grand Hotel, which will provide housing for the family when it moves to the Island this spring.

Between now and July, Mr. Lohff will attend monthly school board meetings and spend much of June learning about the district from Mr. Waaso. He will finish out the school year at Brimley, where he has taught physical education in the elementary school since 2014. He will resign from a seat he holds on the Moran Township School Board, to which he was just elected last November.

Mackinac Island was Mr. Lohff’s first teaching assignment after earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Central Michigan University in 2009 and training as a student teacher at Suttons Bay. He was well liked here but unable to get a full-time position, so left to take full-time work in Colorado, where he served as Parks and Recreation Director at LaSalle and Recreation Di- rector at Eaton until moving back to resume teaching at Brimley.

Since he left Mackinac Island, he has earned two master’s degrees, one in sports administration from Canisius College in 2013 and a second in educational administration from Northern Michigan University, which will be conferred this spring at the May commencement.

He sought a degree in school administration to be better able to help children learn, he told the school board during an interview in March. He sees kids in trouble and knows he can help, he said, but, as a teacher, he lacks the power to make significant change. He feels he can make more of an impact as an administrator. Having greater impact in education is also one reason he joined the Moran Township school board.

As superintendent, he looks forward to working with the faculty to make education more hands-on.

“I want learning to be fun,” he said. “It’s not just about taking a test and being done; I want it to be hands-on and a collaboration where kids are working with others to figure out the content of what they’re learning. I want to work with each of the staff to figure out ways we can do that, figure out ways we can engage the students more.”

During the three years he taught at Brimley, he has worked individually, during and after school, with students who need a little extra help with classwork or homework, or who could benefit from a male mentor when one is lacking at home. He has also enjoyed working with students as the seventh and eighth grade basketball coach at Brimley, and working in multiple grades as a physical education and health teacher throughout his teaching career, he says, has given him experience with students at all age levels.

The biggest obstacle facing educators today is the difficulty in having a positive impact on every student, he said.

“That can be harder in larger schools,” he said, “but a big reason I applied for this job is the small number of kids here. You can reach every one, and I will really enjoy that aspect.”

Education and parenting has changed, he said, and he wants to bridge the gap between home and school.

“I’d like to get the community involved, and the parents involved, as much as I can,” he said.

He thinks the key to student success today is to include parents and community members in the education process, not just the students.

“I want the school to be a fixture in the community,” he said. “I want to talk to the parents and see what their needs are for their kids, and the only way to do that is to invite them into the school.”

Hosting community nights is one idea he has to do that. For instance, he said, before robotics competition begins, the school could invite the community in for dinner and a demon- stration, or during the March into Reading program, teachers and students could share their projects with residents.

Parents attend basketball games and other athletic events, he noted, but the school also needs to highlight academic programs.

“Not a lot of parents want to come to school board meetings, for good reason, I guess, so I want to host things at the school that the community is invited to,” and offering them informative and entertaining events will be one way to accomplish that.

Mr. Lohff said he intends to make a positive impact at the school.

During an interview with the school board in March, he acknowledged, “It is a lot easier to hire someone with 17 years of experience than some 31- year-old, and I am well aware of that. I think my number-one challenge would be earning respect from board members, staff, students, community members, and I know I can do that.”

The family is looking forward to the move. Steven remembers the fun experiences he had when he lived on the Island before. Katie will no longer have to make daily commutes from St. Ignace to her job at Grand Hotel.

“We’re pretty excited,” Bob Lohff said. “This is where I want to be.”

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